Doctors tend to look at night nursing only
from a nutritional standpoint, but this is only part of the story.
After the first few months, your baby will begin to associate the
breast with far more than just a way to satisfy hunger and thirst.
It becomes a place of comfort, security, warmth, closeness, and
familiarity. The act of nursing is not just nourishing; it is
nurturing. Keep in mind that these needs are every bit as real as
baby's physical ones, and having them met is every bit as needful
to baby's overall development.
If the amount that your child sleeps and
nurses at night isn't a major problem for you, then there's no
reason to try to change anything. You are not doing a bad
thing by nursing on demand; you are doing a wonderful thing for
your baby. When you comfort baby at night, you are not teaching
her a bad habit: you are teaching her that you are there for her
when she needs you. Is security a bad habit?
What is normal when it comes to baby's
It is common for breastfed babies to not
sleep through the night for a long period of time. On the other
hand, some breastfed babies start sleeping through the night when
a few months old.
Both of my children nursed once
(occasionally more) at night through their second year. Since this
doesn't bother me, I did doing nothing to change it. We co-sleep,
and neither my baby nor I generally wake up completely when she
nurses. Both started sleeping through the night on their own, when
they were ready.
Your baby will begin to comfort herself and
to sleep for longer stretches at her own developmental pace. If
your baby wants to nurse at night, it is because she does
need this, whether it's because she is hungry or because she wants
to be close to Mom. Sleeping through the night is a developmental
milestone - like walking or toilet training - that your baby will
reach when she is ready to. Trying to force or coax baby to reach
this before her time may result in other problems later on.
If you can try to take a more relaxed
approach and trust that it will come in time, you'll see your baby
eventually become a good sleeper. You'll be able to rest
peacefully in your heart and mind knowing that she reached this in
her own time when she felt secure enough to do so, not because she
had no other choice but to quiet herself because no one would
Probably one of the main reasons that
night-waking babies are such a big issue is that parents don't
have realistic expectations of the sleep patterns of babies. We
are bombarded with magazine articles and books that perpetuate the
myth that babies should not have nighttime needs. Babies were
designed to wake up often at night to feed and cuddle, and keep in
mind that many adults wake during the night, too. If our
expectations for babies were not so different from our babies'
expectations for themselves, much of this "problem"
Why do babies wake at night?
Babies wake at night for many reasons, and
they often start waking at night after sleeping through for a few
months. Some of the reasons for night waking (in no particular
baby wants more time with mom
developmental advances (for example:
waking more often right before or after learning to turn over,
crawl or talk)
illness, allergy, diaper rash, eczema
hunger (including growth spurts)
reverse cycling: Some babies whose moms
are away during the day prefer to reject most/all supplements
while mom is away, and nurse often during the evening and
night. If mom is very busy during the day or if baby is very
distracted, this can also lead to reverse cycling.
When your child nurses more often at night,
go through this checklist to see if you can figure out what might
be going on. Sometimes there may be more than one thing causing
the night waking.
Remember that night waking in babies and
young children is normal and temporary!
Children grow out of night waking, even when
we do nothing to discourage it. This period of time will be a very
tiny part of your child's years with you.
Your goal is to maximize sleep for everyone
in the family, while respecting the needs of your child. If you're
meeting this goal, then ignore anyone who suggests that you do
things differently. All parents find that they change the way they
do things as their child grows older and reaches different
developmental stages - sleep is just another thing that changes as
your child grows.